Iker Cassillas: Spain goalkeeper heaps praise on 'role model' Buffon
Iker Casillas has revealed he took inspiration from Gianluigi Buffon as he progressed through the ranks at Real Madrid.
The goalkeepers will lead their sides into the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Sunday as captains, with both dreaming of lifting the Euro 2012 title at the end of the night.
And the Spain goalkeeper believes those in front of him will have to be at their best to beat his role model - a player he thinks is still amongst the top players in the world.
Casillas told Onda Madrid: "He is an exceptional goalkeeper and at 34 is still amongst the best.
"He has my admiration and maximum respect
"For goalkeepers that are a little younger than him he has been a reference, he has driven us and we wanted to be like him."
Italy and Spain have already met in the tournament, playing out a 1-1 draw in the opening round of fixtures.
Antonio Di Natale's opener in Gdansk remains the only goal Casillas and Spain have conceded in their five games, and the Real Madrid No.1 expects another tough encounter.
"Italy is a dangerous rival that will make it difficult for us," he continued.
"The opponent didn't matter to me because Germany, like Italy, appeared very good."
And Casillas denied that the defending champions ever had any thoughts about engineering a result that would have eliminated the Italians in their final group game against Croatia.
He said: "In no moment did we speculate about drawing 2-2. Our professionalism is like this.
"We wanted to win against Croatia, we had a moment in which they pushed and we could have been put out. We are honourable."
The goalkeeper has also defended the much-maligned style of play that has seen Vicente del Bosque line up without a recognised striker in most of their games.
But Casillas says they have to evolve to stay at the top of the game.
"We are in the final, it has not been as easy as we expected. After four years at the top of world football it is normal that the other teams face us in a different manner," he explained.
"We are the team to beat and they always talk about us, but the important thing is we are going to try and defend our title.
"We are the reference at a world level and we hope it lasts for a long time, but this is a cycle, another team will arrive and dominate the rest.
"For the team and the players we are in a wonderful era of Spanish football."
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The Top 3 Teams of Previous Tournaments
|2008||Spain||Germany||Russia / Turkey|
|2004||Greece||Portugal||Netherlands / Czech Republic|
|2000||France||Italy||Netherlands / Portugal|
|1996||Germany||Czech Republic||France / England|
|1992||Denmark||Germany||Netherlands / Sweden|
|1988||Netherlands||Soviet Union||Italy / West Germany|
|1984||France||Spain||Denmark / Portugal|
|1972||West Germany||Soviet Union||Belgium|